One the little things I started late last year was a forum. I launched it right before heading off on a family roadtrip, without a very clear picture of what it was for. I just wanted a place to talk to people about learning, and the things I was trying to do with fathom.
Since then, it's turned into one of the most exciting parts of this whole fathom project. It's got less than a dozen folks who use it regularly, but the conversations and experiments it's spawned are hugely stimulating.
Forum's are an interesting slice of the internet. They're more social than social media, but also smaller. Places like Lines and Athenaeum are vibrant communities, where real people are talking about things that matter to them. They really feel different, responses come easier, topics as well. Though it may take more effort to create a new post than put out a tweet, it's easier in a way, because you know it carries a certain weight among certain people.
At the end of his thoughts On Forums CJ, one of the folks who frequent FNS, writes:
If social media is a bustling city block, perhaps a forum is like a small town square.
This brings me back to Nadia Eghbal's1 fantastic essay on Public Life. She connects the Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs 2, a classic on the structure and design of cities and communities, to the internet, and the wild communities that live there.
There are a lot of great ideas in that post. One that stands out to me is the concept of "public characters":
the “nodes” of a social network: the central points through whom other social connections flow. They serve a few purposes: 1) being a shared point of trust among strangers, and 2) giving strangers something to gather around, which in turn strengthens our identity.
In Death and Life, public characters are people like local shopkeepers, or barkeepers. I think forums can be like bars! Places that are sheltered and specific, cozy, outside of the momentum of the streets (re: twitter).
Running a forum certainly feels a little like being a storekeeper in a little neighborhood, chatting to people as they pop in, introducing folks, and generally trying to make a good vibe. It's something that definitely doesn't come naturally to me, but is absolutely necessary for these little spaces to thrive.
I could keep writing about this for a while, but essentially I think more people should make more little online communities, and forums are a great format for them. Give it a try! If you want some help setting up discourse, let me know! 3
Anyways, back to education.
A couple months ago, Rhys turned me onto the work of Zak Stein, a writer and educator thinking about what education should be today. His earlier work focused on measurement in schools, which coincided pretty strongly with my own thinking on assessments.
His newest book is Education in a Time Between worlds, and it's a good one. Unlike any other book on the future of education I've seen it tries to take a genuinely encompassing view of education and it's problems, without pigeonholing it to just finance or student loans, etc. But, it's also really hard to read.
So, a bookclub, seemed like a pretty good idea! The plan is to borrow from another experiment that started on FNS and do it blogchain style. The general idea is that everyone posts about the book on their own sites, and we pull all links together on the book-club site. It's definitely a bit of an experiment to see how well the format works as a bookclub. It lacks much of the social pressure of a face to face meeting, which can be pretty handy, but on the other hand, it's more accessible, and easy to participate in on your terms, over time. If this sounds like fun to you, drop in a post! You don't even have to read the book, just respond to others or the ideas in the prompts.
In my post responding to the introduction of the book I try to talk about why I find it so hard to think about education deeply. It's just such a big topic, connecting deeply to moral philosophy, economics, law, and neuroscience. Education in a time between worlds approaches this problem one way. I think I'm slowly building up my own view on it. I'd love to hear your thoughts, whether you're a student or an educator. What's your theory of everything of education?